Court Grants Mandamus Relief To Void Order Naming An Executor More Than Three Years After Admitting Will To Probate As A Muniment Of Title

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In In re Squyres, in 2012, Baker filed with the probate court an application to probate a will as a muniment of title. No. 01-16-00236-CV, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 8509 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] August 9, 2016, no pet. history). The probate court signed an order admitting the will to probate as a muniment of title, and specifically found that “there are no unpaid debts owing by this Estate, exclusive of any debt secured by liens on real estate” and that “there is no necessity for administration of this Estate.” In 2015, Baker filed an application for the probate court to issue letters testamentary and appoint her as independent executor of the estate, and though she acknowledged that the probate court had already admitted the will to probate as a muniment of title, she alleged: “Since the will was admitted to probate as a muniment of title by this Court, Applicant has learned of potential claims due the Estate. There is a necessity for an administration of the Estate so that such claims may be further investigated.” The court granted her application and appointed her executor. Baker’s sister received notice of this order and filed a motion for reconsideration, alleging that the probate court did not have jurisdiction to grant the application. The probate court denied the motion for reconsideration, and the sister filed a petition for writ of mandamus.

The court of appeals first addressed the finality of probate court orders. The court stated that “a probate order is the ‘functional equivalent’ of a final judgment when it finally disposes of a particular issue between parties.” “Thus, the probate court’s plenary power to vacate, modify, correct, or reform a final order expires 30 days after it is signed.” The court acknowledged that a probate court retains jurisdiction over the administration of an estate until that estate is disposed of, but “that continuing jurisdiction does not alter the court’s plenary power over final judgments.” One exception to this finality rule is found in Estates Code Section 55.251(a), which provides that “[a]n interested person may, by a bill of review filed in the court in which the probate proceedings were held, have an order or judgment rendered by the court revised and corrected on a showing of error in the order or judgment, as applicable.” Id. (citing Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 55.251(a)). However, a bill of review “may not be filed more than two years after the date of the order or judgment, as applicable.” Id. The court held that the 2012 order admitting the will to probate as a muniment of title finally disposed of all issues in the proceeding and was a final and appealable judgment. Moreover, the order appointing Baker as executor was filed more than three years after the probate court’s plenary power expired and more than a year after the deadline for filing a bill of review. Accordingly, the court of appeals held that the probate court had no jurisdiction to name Baker executor and granted mandamus relief to the sister.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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